In this edition of the Alligator Awards, we debate which UF female athlete was the best of the 2016-17 season. Sports writers Andrew Huang, Morgan McMullen and Spencer Thompson join alligatorSports editors Dylan Dixon and Jake Dreilinger in a roundtable discussion to debate the five nominees. Debates will go in alphabetical order by the writer’s last name.
Dixon: Barnhill brought her best in 2017
If Kelly Barnhill wasn’t the most dominant female athlete Florida had to offer during the 2016-17 season, I might as well quit my job at the Alligator right now.
Words simply don’t do it justice for how amazing the sophomore pitcher from Marietta, Georgia, was this year with UF’s softball team.
For starters, Barnhill was unhittable in every sense of the phrase, mowing down batters with an NCAA-leading 0.51 ERA as well as 359 total strikeouts.
She also had a pair of scoreless inning streaks that spanned 51 and 45.2 frames each, an absolutely ridiculous stat line considering the fact she competed in the SEC.
And after a successful regular season for the Gators that saw them earn the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Barnhill continued her strong play with an electric national postseason, sporting a 1.09 ERA over 45 innings pitched.
The 5-foot-7 right-hander led Florida all the way to Women’s College World Series final where the team ultimately fell to Oklahoma in two-game series sweep.
While she might have failed to win the ultimate prize of a national championship, Barnhill still received numerous honors and accolades to commemorate her impressive 2017 campaign.
She was named both the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year and espnW Player of the Year in May and was also given the Honda Sports Award on Monday, which is granted to the best female athlete in each sport.
My fellow colleagues might try and convince you otherwise, but in my mind, there was no one more on her game this season than Barnhill. No one.
Dreilinger: Alex McMurtry stepped up in a big way
In its first season without longtime standout Bridget Sloan, the Gators gymnastics team needed someone to fill her role.
Enter junior Alex McMurtry.
The Midlothian, Virginia, native had a year to remember, helping Florida make it back to the NCAA Super Six and making her case for the most dominant female athlete at UF.
She has the resume to back up that claim as well.
McMurtry had four perfect 10s (two on uneven bars, one on vault and one on floor) and was the first Gator to record a perfect 10 in three different events in a single season. She was also the only competitor in this year’s NCAA Championships to earn All-America first-team honors in each event.
She took home the SEC all-around title, the fifth Gator in the last six years to do so. McMurtry was even the NCAA all-around champion after posting an NCAA semifinal score of 39.8125.
With the incredible season she had leading the Gators to a third place finish, she became the fifth Gator in the last six years to earn the Honda Sports Award in gymnastics.
If those achievements aren’t enough to convince you, take a look at how she closed out her 2017 campaign.
When it came time for McMurtry to perform her last routine on bars, Oklahoma had already clinched the national title. Despite the celebration having already started, she gave it everything she had.
As she finished her routine, she looked to see what her score was.
It was another perfect 10.
The most dominant female athlete this season had just capped off her year with another exhilarating performance.
Huang: Jefferson capped off career in flawless fashion
Kyra Jefferson spent five years at Florida leaving the competition in the dust.
Now, the fifth-year senior is leaving behind a legacy in the form of four NCAA titles, six SEC titles and 20 appearances on UF's all-time top 10 lists.
And of course, an NCAA record in her signature event, the 200-meter.
In her final 200-meter appearance she garnered her third NCAA title, breaking Dawn Sowell’s 28-year-old record by two-hundredths of a second at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Oregon.
The feat vaulted Jefferson into rare company. She is the fourth woman ever to run a time of 22.02 or better before turning 23 years old.
But that was just the exclamation point at the end of a stellar senior campaign. At the SEC Outdoor Championships in May, Jefferson claimed her second SEC title in the 200-meter.
Just like that, she swept the heavyweight SEC and the nation.
Her outdoor resume is far from limited to one event—she has won SEC titles in the 4x400 relay and 100-meter as well as national titles in the 4x100 and 4x400 relays.
Her indoor accomplishments aren’t far behind. She is an SEC champion in the 4x400 relay, and owns NCAA and SEC 200-meter titles.
Track and field athletes have separate eligibility between indoor and outdoor meets. Jefferson had exhausted her indoor eligibility last year, meaning she could only participate in the second half of this season at outdoor competitions.
That’s why her performance in her final season is so impressive: She rose to the occasion and then some at every opportunity, and it seems likely she would have done well indoors if she had the chance.
For anyone else, half a season wouldn’t be close to enough to make a case for best female athlete.
But when it comes to Kyra Jefferson, all it takes is two-hundredths of a second.
McMullen: Woolcock shined amongst the stars
Her last match in UF colors may have been a loss, but Belinda Woolcock had a season nearly unrivaled in Gator history.
The senior from Melbourne, Australia, was runner-up in the NCAA Singles Tournament, where she admittedly ran out of gas after a stretch of 11 consecutive days of play. In the championship tournament, Woolcock was named the 2017 NCAA Championship Most Outstanding Player.
Speaking of accolades, Woolcock was the Honda Sports Award winner for best female tennis player in the country. She is the fourth Gator tennis player to receive the honor, and her record and role on a championship team legitimizes the choice.
As part of the national championship effort, Woolcock avenged a regular season loss to Vanderbilt’s Astra Sharma, initiating a comeback effort to defeat the No. 2-ranked player 6-7, 6-2, 6-0 in the semifinals. After that heart-stopping victory, Woolcock cruised to a 6-1, 6-3 win over Stanford’s Caroline Doyle to give Florida its second singles point of the final.
Woolcock played in the No. 1 singles spot in almost every dual match this season, posting a record of 16-6 over that span. As a doubles partner with Josie Kuhlman, she went 24-3.
On a team of superstars, it’s difficult to shine. But Belinda Woolcock did just that and deserves to be considered the best UF female athlete of 2016-17.
Thompson: Jordan made history in final season
Abby Wambach is one of the most decorated female athletes in the world. Sitting directly behind Wambach in Florida soccer history is forward Savannah Jordan, and that’s why she deserves the title of best female athlete in the 2016-17 season.
During her four years at UF, she helped lead the Gators to a combined 71-18-5 record, including a 2016 campaign that saw Florida lose in the NCAA quarterfinals.
In 2016, Jordan started all 23 games and led the team in goals, points and shots on goal. She also tied for second in assists with Mayra Pelayo.
However, it’s wasn’t just Jordan’s recent success that established her as a Gator great. She ranks second in program history in goals and points with 81 and 189, respectively. This is second only to two-time gold medal olympian Wambach, who scored 96 goals and earned 242 points in her time at UF.
Jordan was the first player in Florida history to earn four National Soccer Coaches Association of America All-America honors. And she also joins Wambach as the only other Gator to earn four consecutive All-SEC first-team honors.
After Jordan graduated, she was drafted by the Portland Thorns, only to quickly sign with the Scottish champion football club Glasgow City. Jordan’s timeline with Portland is uncertain, but it is likely she will return to the U.S. in 2018.
Who do you think was the best female athlete of the 2016-17 season? Vote online at alligator.org/sports.